The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) on Tuesday fined Barclays Bank and its related units £26 million (U.S. $34.8 million) for poor treatment of consumer credit customers experiencing financial hardship.
According to the FCA, between April 2014 and December 2018, Barclays “failed to treat customers fairly or to act with due skill, care, and diligence” by not following its contact policies for customers who fell into debt; failing to have appropriate conversations with customers to help understand the reasons for the debt; and by failing to properly understand customers’ circumstances, leading it to offer unaffordable forbearance solutions.
Barclays said it identified at least 1.5 million customers “who suffered detriment, or were at risk of suffering detriment,” as a result of systems and controls failings and has paid over £273 million (U.S. $365 million) in redress to affected customers. However, while the bank knew about many of the shortcomings in its systems and controls as early as 2013, it failed to adequately resolve these problems until late 2018.
“Consumers should feel reassured that their lender will work with them to help resolve any financial difficulties, whereas Barclays’s poor treatment of its customers risked making these difficulties worse,” said Mark Steward, executive director of Enforcement and Market Oversight at the FCA, in a press release.
In setting the fine, the FCA said it considered Barclays’ redress program and, thus, discounted the financial penalty by 30 percent. Otherwise, Barclays would have been fined £37.2 million (U.S. $49.8 million).
The enforcement action against Barclays imparts compliance lessons for the entire financial services industry that have only been heightened by the coronavirus pandemic. The FCA warned “the fair and appropriate treatment of customers experiencing financial difficulty remains a focus” and that it’s “working to ensure that firms raise their standards in this area.”
Specifically, from a risk management standpoint, the FCA said firms should ensure they appropriately invest in staff who work in collections and recoveries, including in training and effective management information, to allow firms to monitor customer outcomes and take appropriate action where needed. “We will take action against unfair treatment or where firm systems expose customers to the risk of unfairness,” Steward said. “While this case predates the pandemic, this message is especially important as the impact of coronavirus continues to affect household incomes and budgets.”